Washington Waves – March 19, 2018

Washington, D.C.—U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross promoted new dredging technologies for port construction and a single data source for navigational products to help mariners find the best route through congested waterways as examples of transformational projects that could come out of President Donald Trump’s $1.5-trillion infrastructure vision.

“We need to find novel and groundbreaking creativity that brings American infrastructure into the 21st century,” he told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Ross made those comments as part of an extremely unusual panel that included four other Cabinet secretaries: Elaine Chao of Transportation, Alexander Acosta of Labor, Sonny Perdue of Agriculture and Rick Perry of Energy.
But even that marquee event with all of its heavy hitters could not escape the basic questions that hang over the president’s much-ballyhooed effort.
Who pays for it and how?

Chao, who already has testified at several separate infrastructure hearings, pitched those unanswered questions as good news because the administration has left all options on the table.

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“We are agnostic,” she said, repeating a catch phrase from her earlier appearances.

Democrats on the committee weren’t buying it as they took turns pressing Chao and the other Cabinet members for details on potential funding options.
Even Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the committee chairman, conceded to reporters afterwards the eventual decisions on how robust the final package can be will depend on what is worked out on its funding as the various committees advance their portion of the plan.

“This is not just another highway bill,” Thune said, referring to different aspects of the effort that range from what many view as traditional infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges to broadband.

Instead of specific legislation, the Trump administration sent to Congress “principles” the president wants included in an infrastructure package that begins with $200 billion the federal government hopes to use as leverage for at least another $1.3 billion from state and local governments as well as the private sector.

TIGER Grants

The American Association of Port Authorities expressed disappointment at the level of funding port-related projects received in the ninth round of the popular TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant program.

Announced by the U.S. Department of of Transportation, the list grants totaled $500 million and 41 projects in 43 states.

“While we’re pleased there were a few port-related projects included in the ninth round of TIGER grants just announced, we’re disappointed there weren’t more,” said Kurt Nagle, AAPA’s president and CEO.

“TIGER grants are one of the few federal funding programs available to public port authorities to help them pay for critical infrastructure to move and handle freight more efficiently.”

AAPA identified five port-related projects to receive funding as Baltimore County, Md., $20 million for the Mid-Atlantic Multi-Modal Transportation Hub to build a cargo-handling facility; Burlington, Iowa, $17 million for its Downtown/Riverfront Revitalization Project; Louisiana’s St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District, $13 million to rehabilitate two wharf sections; Alabama State Port Authority, $12.7 million for a mobile vehicle processing facility for Southeast Automotive Gateway; and Indiana Department of Transportation, $10 million for the Wabash River Rail Bridge Infrastructure Revitalization Project.

AAPA stated the $72.7 million for those projects represented 14.54 percent of the latest round’s totaling funding, adding it consistently has pushed for at least 25 percent.

On its website, the Transportation Department explained that 64 percent of the TIGER grant funding went to rural projects, which represents a significant boost for such projects.

Previously the highest percentage going to rural projects came to 39 percent, two years ago.

“The primary selection criteria for TIGER awards include consideration for safety, state of good repair, economic competitiveness, qualify of life and environmental sustainability for each project,” according to information provided by an agency official.

“Secondary criteria include innovation and partnership.”
The official also said the 39.18 percent of the funding that went to tribal projects was included in the rural total.

An AAPA spokesman said the organization contends that port projects should be given the highest priority among applications submitted because of their far-reaching benefits to urban and rural areas throughout the country.

Next Commandant

Vice Adm. Karl Schultz, currently the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area and operational commander of missions from the Rocky Mountains to the Arabian Gulf, has been nominated to become the service’s 26th commandant.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Schultz will succeed Adm. Paul Zukunft, who is scheduled to retire in the summer.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the nomination of Schultz by President Donald Trump, and she used her comments to highlight his 35-year career and “his ability to lead the men and women of the Coast Guard with honor and integrity.”

Nielsen’s announcement also stated that Schultz has selected and Trump has nominated Vice Adm. Charles Ray, the current deputy commandant for operations, as the Coast Guard’s 31st vice commandant.
Ray is to succeed Adm. Charles Michel, the Coast Guard’s first four-star vice commandant.

Harmonized Dates

Mariners can request harmonized expiration dates for their Merchant Mariner Credential and Medical Certificate, the National Maritime Center announced.
That change was included in Section 304 of the 2015 Coast Guard Authorization Act.

For additional information, contact the NMC call center at 1-888-427-5662.

CG Regulatory Reform

The National Maritime Security Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet March 20–21 in Oakland, Calif., to continue discussion of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Regulatory Reform effort and provide final recommendations on that topic.

According to the Coast Guard notice, the meetings will be held at the Port of Oakland conference room, 530 Water St., and will be broadcast on the web. Start times for the sessions were listed as noon on March 20 and 8 a.m. for the second day.

Other items on the agenda include updates on Cyber Security and an Extremely Hazardous Cargo Strategy.

For additional information, contact Ryan Owens at 202-372-1108.

U.S.-Flag Fleet

Maritime Administration head Mark Buzby used a congressional hearing to explain the role the Jones Act plays in helping to maintain an adequate number of U.S.-flag ships and mariners to meet the needs of the nation’s commerce as well as its military sealift demands.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. commercial presence in the international maritime domain has been on a steady decline since its peak in World War II and is currently at the lowest level in American history,” Buzby told the House Armed Services subcommittees on Readiness and Seapower and Projection Forces.
“The decline of the U.S.-flag fleet and the availability of qualified U.S. mariners are of great concern to MarAd and we are exploring a range of options to increase the size of the U.S.-flag fleet with our stakeholders and the administration.”

In his testimony, Air Force Gen. Darren McDew, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, agreed the dwindling size of the domestic intercoastal shipping fleet calls for a reassessment on how the U.S. retains critical national security surge sealift capabilities.

McDew also referred to a decline in the number of qualified Merchant Mariners necessary to deliver U.S. forces to war.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) referred to what he called the “constant fire” the Jones Act faces and suggested a “quick and dirty study” should be done to see what would be lost if Congress repealed the Jones Act, which critics view as a protectionist law that has outlived its usefulness.

Regulation Publication

To help save mariners time and money, the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have teamed up to incorporate the Inland Navigation Rules and the amalgamated International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea into NOAA’s U.S. Coast Pilot publications.
“The U.S. Coast Pilot will now provide a one-stop shop for these required publications,” Capt. Mary Ellen Durley, the chief of the Coast Guard Office of Navigation Systems, said in a press release that noted the U.S. Coast Pilot publications already include the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Service regulations.

“Adding the Navigation Rules into the Coast Pilot conveniently places three essential navigation safety publications into one easily available publication, available in either bound hard copy or electronic format.”

Noting the three required publications are available in one free download, Capt. James Crocker, the chief of NOAA Office of Coast Survey Navigation Services Division, said making essential navigational products readily available and convenient was a priority for NOAA.

To assess Coast Pilot, visit  www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/publications/coast-pilot/index.html.

FMC Investigation

The Federal Maritime Commission voted to launch an investigation into the practices of vessel operating common carriers and marine terminal operators related to detention, demurrage and per diem charges.

Commissioner Rebecca Dye will head up the investigation, a commission press release stated.

In January, the commission held a two-day hearing in response to a petition filed by the Coalition for Fair Port Practices.

“The coalition raised substantive issues in both their petition and their testimony at our January hearing investigating carrier and terminal detention and demurrage practices,” Acting FMC Chairman Michael Khouri said.
A final report on Dye’s findings and recommendations is due no later than December 2, 2018.

Charleston Security Committee

The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking resumes from individuals interested in serving on the Area Maritime Security Committee, Charleston, S.C.

Requests should reach the Federal Maritime Security Coordinator by April 5 at the Coast Guard Sector Charleston, Attention: Dennis Bradford, 1050 Register St., North Charleston, SC 29405 or by email at dennis.f.bradford@uscg.mil.
According to the Federal Register notice, members of the committee work on the Area Maritime Security Plan and should have at least five years of expertise related to maritime or port security operations.

Seaway Meeting

The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Advisory Board announced a public meeting via conference call on March 19 with an agenda that includes its quarterly report.

With the administrator’s approval, members of the public may present oral statements at the 2 p.m. meeting, which will be held at the board’s headquarters, 55 M St. SE, Suite 930, Washington, D.C. 20003.
For additional information, contact Wayne Williams at 202-366-0091.

Offshore Committee To Meet

The National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee and a subcommittee have scheduled meetings on March 27–28 in New Orleans, La., to discuss issues affecting the offshore oil and gas industry.

With both sessions at the Omni Riverfront Hotel, 701 Convention Center Blvd., the subcommittee on Regulatory Review will meet at 1 p.m. on March 27 with the full committee meeting at 8 a.m. on March 28.

For additional information, contact Cmdr. Jose Perez at 202-372-1410.